Driving Clean Across America

Audi Mileage Marathon Sets Out to Prove Diesels Ain’t Dirty

by Joe LaMuraglia

Audi Mileage Marathon - Clean Diesel

I am taking part in Wave 3 of Audi’s “Mileage Marathon” – a cross-country drive event that started in New York last week and will end in Los Angeles on October 20th. Audi’s is using this event to introduce their new clean diesel vehicles to the world and I’ll be part of a team testing a Q7 from Denver to Las Vegas via Durango, CO and Sedona, AZ.
The Mileage Marathon covers more than 4,800 miles and features 23 vehicles all featuring Audi’s new clean diesel technology and badged as TDIs. The Audi Q7, A4 and Q5 all feature a 3.0 V6 TDI engine that promises to be quite the miser on fuel. There is also a A3 with a 2.0 TDI engine that will get close to 50 MPG. I’ll report in from the road at least daily and perhaps more if my driving partner isn’t a maniac behind the wheel.
Day 1 – Denver to Durango
We leave in about an hour and the closest we’ve gotten to the TDI technology has been via a presentation by our hosts last evening. I had a few minutes of seat time in a European-spec Q7 TDI at a Consumer Reports event a few weeks ago and from that brief ride, I can tell that the trip will be quite comfortable as the Q7 is every bit an Audi. The Euro-spec engine was a little noisy so I am eager to see how different the U.S-spec vehicle is. My co-driver and I met at dinner last night and it still isn’t clear if we are going to attempt to beat our fellow drivers in the MPG contest or simply drive it as a normal consumer would and report the results. We heard that a few Q7s were getting 28 MPG on the highway in the previous wave! Check back later for more from the road.

Audi Mileage Marathon - Clean Diesel

Greetings from Durango, CO. My driving partner and I spent the day piloting our 2009 Audi Q7 TDI from Denver to Durango through some of the most gorgeous scenery in the country. We started out saying that we weren’t going to pay attention to fuel consumption but that quickly deteriorated after the first hour when we realized that we averaged 26 MPG in combined city and highway driving. It dawned on us that we wouldn’t have to modify our driving behavior that much to actually compete in this contest. So we motored on with a light touch on the throttle and steady progress across the mountains and plains of Colorado.
After a day of breathtaking scenery and lively discussion, we rolled into the Doubletree here in Durango with an indicated 28.3 MPG on the trip computer. And this is in a 7-passenger SUV! To say that we were impressed with the engine and fuel economy would be the understatement of the year. The motor is virtually indistinguishable from a gasoline engine and it never even hinted at a strain during climbs to 10,000 feet above sea level. The only disappointment, which is actually incredibly impressive at the same time, is that other teams bested our MPG performance with one claiming a 30+ average MPG consumption level! As they say, tomorrow is another day and we’ll be on our way to Sedona, AZ from our launch pad here in Durango. Check back here tomorrow for another update or visit www.audimileagemarathon.com for live tracking of the event’s progress.

Day 2 – Durango, CO to Sedona, AZ

Our day began with the announcement of the results from the first day of driving. At an indicated 28.3 MPG, we thought we might be at the top of the list if not in pole position. Sadly, car #4 came in 4th place with the winning vehicle getting close to 30 MPG. Our performance, while impressive, was less than satisfying so we did what all champions do; we gave up!
Don’t go judging us to harshly. We decided to stop driving so delicately and really treat the Q7 as if it were our own. No more gentle acceleration and careful monitoring of our speed for us. It was time to see what the Q7 could do on the open road.
The route was another visual delight that took us through Southwestern Colorado, Southeastern Utah and down into Arizona. If you’ve not had the chance to see this part of the country, you should put in on your list. It is otherworldly. I’ll post some photos later as I left the camera in the car.

Audi Mileage Marathon - Clean Diesel

Speaking of the car; the Q7 revealed in it’s new found freedom from deliberate driving. The 3.0 V6 TDI seems to like full throttle acceleration and cruising at high speeds. I didn’t check our average speed but when I was behind the wheel I routinely hit 85 – 90 MPH and we still averaged around 26 MPG. Rather respectful for a large SUV. Our colleagues in the Q5 with the same engine were getting close to 35 MPG!
Besides the fantastic fuel mileage, the other point that Audi is trying to make with this new technology is how clean diesel can be. There is NO smoke, NO soot and NO smell. The engine is incredibly quiet and performs similarly to a gasoline engine. There is a little bit of turbo lag when accelerating full throttle from a standstill but the average consumer is likely not to notice. We did notice a odd drone when cruising at about 90 MPH and I’m convinced it isn’t the tires. I’ll get an update from the engineers and report back. Off to Las Vegas today on our last leg of the trip. We have no chance of wining the fuel economy contest so perhaps we’ll try our luck at the casino!

Audi Mileage Marathon - Clean Diesel

Day 3 – Sedona, AZ – Las Vegas, NV
The last leg for us ended three days ago but this is my first chance to actually sit down and type. If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter you know that I’ve been a traveling fool this week and am writing this from a Bojangle’s restaurant in Belmont, NC. Sadly, I didn’t drive the Q7 TDI here from Las Vegas. Another team taking part in Wave 4 of the Audi Mileage Marathon
took our car from Las Vegas and should be pulling into Santa Monica sometime today.
Our third day in the Q7 TDI was all about the adventure with very little attention paid to the fuel economy. After day 2 we were in 4th place in our class and came to terms with the fact that our competitive streak simply wasn’t entrenched enough to even attempt a comeback. We motored from Sedona to Vegas listening to music and cruising at high speeds – what we assume the average Q7 owner would do. We even turned the large SUV into a mobile office of sorts as I had to take part in a conference call and Mike logged on and checked email in the back seat. For you road warriors out there, the combination of great fuel economy, AWD and roomy interior would make a Q7 a perfect office on wheels.
As we pulled into the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, I checked the trip computer one last time. The MPG ended up being closer to 25 overall which is higher than the vehicle is rated (18 city/24 hwy). That in itself is impressive for a 7-passenger, three-row SUV. The fact that it was achieved with what many consumers think is a “dirty” fuel is where the real story is.
Vehicles with “clean diesel” technology are arriving in the US as we speak. They offer the efficiency and durability that diesels have always been known for without the noise or emissions that made them less-than-desirable in the past. Audi’s TDI’s are a shining example of that new technology and after three days of driving a Q7 TDI, I am confident that they will be popular with those of you who are in the market for a luxury SUV that is fun to drive and fuel efficent.
Pricing has not been announced for the Q7 TDI but we expect an approximate $2,000 price premium over a similarly equipped gasoline Audi Q7.


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